Nick Clegg attends a press statement in German Ministry of Economy on November 26, 2014 in Berlin. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dems hit new poll low of 5 per cent

The party reaches the nadir prophesied by Chris Huhne in 2010. 

Shortly after the coalition was formed, Chris Huhne predicted that support for the Lib Dems would plummett to 5 per cent, while support for the Tories would fall to 25 per cent. The Conservatives have fared far better than he expected, usually polling well above that level, but his own party's fate has been just as prophesied. 

After regularly scoring as low as six per cent in recent surveys (behind the Greens), the Lib Dems have today hit the new nadir of 5 per cent: the lowest figure from any pollster since May 2010. The figure came from TNS, which also gave Labour a seven point lead over the Tories (35-28). Ukip are on 19 per cent, with the Greens on 7 per cent. 

By this stage of the parliament many Lib Dems expected their party to be recovering. As part of the government, the hope was that they would benefit from the return of economic growth and the large fall in unemployment. Yet far from gaining ground, they are still losing it. Some rare consolation was provided by ICM earlier this week, which had them at the giddy heights of 14 per cent (largely owing to methodological differences: ICM reallocate 50 per cent of Lib Dem "don't knows" to the party). But their average rating remains just 9 per cent. 

Owing to the benefits of incumbency and their MPs' local reputations, the Lib Dems still hope to retain at least 30 of their 56 seats at the election. In private, they are resigned to the loss of most of their Labour-facing constituencies, such as Burnley, Manchester Withington, Redcar, Brent Central, Bradford East and Norwich South. But they remain confident of holding the majority of the far greater number of Conservative-facing seats (which account for 37 of their 56). Lord Ashcroft's most recent marginals poll found them on course to retain nine of the 11 surveyed.

But outside of their fortresses, they face the prospect of collapse and hundreds of lost deposits. It will take years of rebuilding before the Lib Dems are a truly national party again. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.